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May 12, 2011 / J. Shaw

House Limits Obama's Authority on Nukes

Republican lawmakers voted Wednesday to limit President Obama’s authority to reduce America’s nuclear arsenal and implement a U.S.-Russia arms control treaty overwhelmingly approved by the Senate last December.

Over the objections of the Defense Department and Democrats, the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee approved a series of amendments directly related to Obama’s ability to make nuclear weapons reductions. By a 35-26 vote, the Republican-controlled panel approved an amendment that would prohibit money to take nuclear weapons out of operation unless the administration provides a report to Congress on how it plans to modernize the remaining weapons.

The panel also adopted an amendment that says the president may not change the target list or move weapons out of Europe until he reports to Congress.

The votes are mostly symbolic because they are unlikely to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate. House Republicans, who have no constitutional authority to vote on a treaty, said they were ensuring the link between the treaty cuts and Obama’s promise to modernize the remaining weapons. They also complained that the treaty did not cover tactical nuclear weapons.

The New START treaty, signed by Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April 2010, would limit each country’s strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550, down from the current ceiling of 2,200. It also would establish a system for monitoring and verification. U.S. weapons inspections ended in 2009 with the expiration of a 1991 treaty.


The Senate approved the treaty on a 71-26 vote, with 13 Republicans breaking with their party leaders.

The provisions added by the House panel to the $553 billion defense spending bill for next year are unlikely to survive in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Still, they elicited a fierce and lengthy debate in the committee.

Democrats criticized the measure for tying the president’s hands now and in the future on reducing nuclear weapons, and trying to rewrite the treaty through the defense bill.

“If we stop implementation, Russia stops implementation,” said Democratic Rep. Rick Larsen.

Democrats on the panel challenged provisions of the bill that limit the administration’s authority to transfer terrorist suspects from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to foreign countries, but were unsuccessful in undoing the provision.

Consistent with recent legislation, the bill bars transfer of detainees to facilities in the United States. The legislation also would prohibit family members from visiting detainees at Guantanamo Bay by barring the Defense Department from spending any money on such visits. The provision was a pre-emptive move as the Pentagon is considering allowing family visits.



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